By Arpi Dilanian and Matthew HowardOctober 1, 2019
As the first commander of Army Futures Command (AFC), Gen. John "Mike" Murray is charting the future as the Army modernizes to protect tomorrow, today. A graduate of Ohio State University, Murray previously served as Commanding General, 3rd Infantry Division, and Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, where he formally presented to Congress the argument to gain overmatch through modernization. Now at the helm of the first new Army command since 1973, we sat down with him to discuss how sustainment fits into the Army's renaissance.
Where is AFC heading in the next decade, especially with the possibility of budget uncertainty across the Department of Defense?
The Army senior leaders have committed to what is really the foundation for everything we're trying to do, and that is the multi-domain operations concept. We're having serious discussions right now about what future structure looks like. We don't know exactly what that is yet, but we know we need to fundamentally change the way the Army's organized and our senior leadership is committed to doing so.
Between now and 2028, I think budget uncertainty is almost certain. It really comes down to what you've seen from the secretary (of the Army) and chief (of staff of the Army)--and really all the Army senior leaders--to date: an unflinching focus on the modernization priorities.
Over the last couple years, we've gone through what are affectionately called "deep dives" to move resources around to fund those modernization priorities. Eventually, that will permeate across the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF) spectrum. As we implement that new equipment and structure, the new doctrine and leader development will follow and eventually the facilities and everything else.
How are we changing culture when it comes to bureaucracy, requirements creep, and the stigma of failure?
When I first took this job, I was told I needed to change the Army's culture. The more I thought about that, the more I disagreed; I think the Army has a very rich culture.
I see it more as the need to build bridges between cultures, rather than change them. Compare tech startups and innovation hubs to the Army: the cultures are two completely different things. So without me coming in as big Army trying to change their culture, and without them expecting me to change mine, how do we build bridges between the two so we can capitalize on what's best from each?
That being said, there is a piece of our culture I do think we need to change: the risk aversion with how we acquire materiel. There is a fear of failure. But out of everything we're working on, inevitably there will be something that won't go exactly right. I don't think it's going to manifest itself as a positive or negative until that point, so the institution's reaction to that "failure" will be key.
Failure is acceptable if we fail early enough and cheaply enough. The problem with failures in t
he past is it took too long and we had way too much money invested before we decided we had failed.
When it comes to requirements creep, specifically for the 31 items the cross-functional teams (CFTs) have in their portfolios, I think a lot of senior leader involvement up front is critical. We get into trying to build the perfect solution when often the 80 percent solution that we can iterate over time is probably good enough. It's this continued cycle of "make it better, make it better" and you never end up delivering.
The secretary and the chief have approved the overarching requirements for all 31 to ensure they're in line with the Army's priorities. A combination of the CFT directors and program managers then have weekly touchpoints with the secretary and the chief, and every one of those discussions involves the requirements and where we are. So there's a good understanding that if we're going to have a requirements change, it has to come back to the Army senior leadership. I think this is a good model that doesn't happen in a lot of places.
In many cases, we're also very much focused on schedule first. The secretary has made very clear that the most important requirement is the ability to grow over time. When you look at our track record, yes, we have some miserable failures in new development. But we are actually pretty good in incrementally upgrading. Take the Abrams, for example. We're developing its fourth system enhancement package which will allow it to remain the best tank in the world, just as it has been for the last 40 years. The ability to incrementally upgrade can only go so far until you run out of physics, or as current Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville likes to say, "until you run out of letters in the alphabet," but that margin for growth in the future is key.
What is being done to get the right technologies in the hands of our Soldiers at the right time?
If you go back to the '50s and '60s, government investment in research and development, or more appropriately science and technology--outpaced commercial industry by about three-to-one. Today, most estimations say that ratio has reversed to about six-to-one in favor of commercial versus government investment. We have to tap into that commercial innovation as best as we possibly can, but that's not as easily done as said.
Universities across the country are also part of that picture. As I've gotten out to visit many of them, I've found that just about every university I've been to is standing up some sort of technology transfer tool to facilitate innovation movement out of universities and into industry and the military.
Interaction at every opportunity, and formalizing some of that interaction, is critical. But the one thing I don't want you to take away is that the interaction and interface with traditional defense suppliers is any less important than it's ever been. It's really a combination of maintaining that contact--that knowledge of what's going on in the industrial base--but also reaching out to some non-traditionals through organizations like the Army Applications Lab and the Army Reserve's 75th Innovation Command, both of which directly support AFC.
These types of organizations are really charged with finding non-traditional places for innovation and then figuring out how we get that into the hands of Soldiers. Particularly with the 75th, there is innovation going on all around the country and we also have Army Reserve Soldiers all around the country. So how can we combine those two and define the technologies that are going to be most relevant to us in the future?
The last piece is getting the technology into the hands of Soldiers earlier. Really when it's at the mint value prototype stage, Soldiers need to be giving feedback on their needs and wants before we go into writing requirements and production.
Does sustainment need to evolve to better enable maneuver commanders on the multi-domain battlefield?
I have great respect for our logisticians. We often hamstring them and they always figure out a way to get the job done. That spirit--the can-do attitude, and really the ability to take a less-than-ideal situation and figure out how to make it work--has to remain no matter how the operating environment evolves.
We're going to be operating in smaller and smaller units, and more widely dispersed than we have in the past. How we sustain forward units is going to take a different thought process when we're operating like that.
3-D printing is going to play a role in some of these challenges, and I think we have to do some work to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. Electrification can really reduce the burden we put on logisticians in terms of what we require.
There's also great opportunity for automation in logistics. Right now, we're working leader-follower concepts where you have a manned lead vehicle and up to seven follower vehicles. These systems may not be as useful on the frontlines, at least not in the near-term, but can be game-changing for line-haul from theater to forward. Small aerial resupply vehicles could potentially play a significant role as well.
Is sustainment being addressed upfront in the Army's modernization, rather than as an afterthought?
For all the new systems we're developing, sustainability and reliability are being looked at as part of the requirements process. While that was always the case to some degree, I think we're now putting increased emphasis on the sustainment piece.
On each of the CFTs, there is a logistician from Army Materiel Command who is part of the process. Those individuals are not only making sure sustainment is addressed, but more importantly, that we're honest in our assessments of how reliable and how sustainable an individual piece of equipment will be.
From a systems standpoint, we have recently started an effort to look at things from a system of systems perspective--so a mission threat, if you will, or mission engineering. Take the next generation combat vehicle: the logistics tail and how we would actually sustain that system is being looked at not just from the vehicle standpoint, but from more of a holistic mission threat perspective.
How do our allies and partners fit into AFC's operations, and how are we balancing modernization with interoperability?
You're not going to be interoperable every place, but there are certain areas, such as digital fires, where you want to remain absolutely interoperable. So there's a fair amount of concern from our key allies and partners now that AFC has come to fruition.
I was recently in Australia for conversations with their army. Their fear stems from being much smaller in terms of structure and operating with much smaller budgets. While this actually gives them an advantage of agility in making changes, it's hard for them to keep up when we keep changing our mind. So constant dialogue and being as transparent as we possibly can on where we're taking our investments is the first critical step.
We've created recurring meetings throughout the year to talk through interoperability. The ability to have liaison officers will also help; we'll soon have the first two at AFC from the British and Australian armies with full transparency to where we're going. And as the focus with interoperability is often placed on materiel, joint exercises play a large role to strengthen our ability to work with each other.
Change seems to be the only constant as we head into the future of Army sustainment. What advice do you have for our young Soldiers as we transform to Army 2028?
My focus is even further out. AFC was stood up to make sure future Soldiers--some of whom are toddlers right now, others are not even born yet--have the organizational structure, doctrine, and tools they need to fight and win on the battlefield. Better yet, we want to have done our job so well that our future Soldiers never have to use these tools because nobody will ever consider taking on the United States in ground combat. That deterrence piece is really what we're focused on.
I recently enlisted a group of young Soldiers, and I wish they had asked me that. I would've told them not to get comfortable with the Army they're enlisting into today because we're going to be in a constant state of change for the next 10 to 15 years.
We have a general idea of where we're heading in terms of organizational structure and multi-domain operations. But we need the room to learn, grow, and experiment because the world is constantly going to change. It's all about the ability to be agile within that process so we can adapt to the world we're in, not the world we'd like it to be.
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.
This article appears in the October-December 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.